Opinion: Those concerned about school district should learn about S.C. Act 388

Posted 4/3/19

There is continual front-page coverage in The Sumter Item about the Sumter School District's financial crisis. This crisis has generated many discussions and comments from concerned citizens. Citizens have also approached me regarding comments that …

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Opinion: Those concerned about school district should learn about S.C. Act 388

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There is continual front-page coverage in The Sumter Item about the Sumter School District's financial crisis. This crisis has generated many discussions and comments from concerned citizens. Citizens have also approached me regarding comments that I made about millage (tax) rates and fiscal autonomy during a Sumter County Council meeting on March 12, 2019, in an article published in The Sumter Item: "Baten asks to raise taxes for schools."

My conversations with many residents enlightened me to the fact that most citizens, elected officials and community leaders have no knowledge of the contents of South Carolina Act 388, which became law in 2006 under a Republican-controlled Legislature. Act 388 exempts owners of owner-occupied homes from paying taxes for local schools, thus shifting the burden to commercial, business, vacation and rental property holders. In exchange, the state increased state sales taxes by a penny and agreed to send funding back to school districts to compensate for the lost revenue.

Presently, 26 (out of 81) S.C. school districts have fiscal autonomy (S.C. School Board Association). These districts have no overseeing body. However, they implement a majority vote regarding millage increases, "which is subject to cap under Act 388." Sumter School Board can be granted fiscal autonomy by four out of seven members of our local delegation. Remember, four members of our delegation agreed to consolidate our school districts in 2010.

With the addition of two at-large members, the Sumter School Board has nine non-partisan members. Without fiscal autonomy, the school board must come before Sumter County Council, a bi-partisan body (four Democrats and three Republicans), to obtain the millage that they are entitled to under Act 388. For the past two years (2017 and 2018), the school board's millage requests were denied.

I greatly appreciate the citizens who are concerned about a quality education for our children in public schools. Furthermore, I encourage those concerned to become familiar with S.C. Law Act 388. Act 388, passed in 2006, included a change in S.C. Code Section 6-1-320. It sets a "hard cap" on millage increases (https://www.masc.sc/Pages/legislative/MillageCapLaw.aspx).

God bless you.

EUGENE R. BATEN

Sumter County Council, District 7